Saturday, February 14, 2009

How Will the Crash Reshape Pittsburgh?

Mike Madison (Pittsblog) asks his readers to weigh in on Richard Florida's recent article from a Pittsburgh-centric point of view:

Former Pittsburgher and CMU professor Richard Florida, of "Rise of the Creative Class" fame, has an essay in The Atlantic titled "How the Crash Will Reshape America." He doesn't address Pittsburgh much (thus the title of the post), so I'm curious about how Pittsblog readers think that the Floridian theme reads on the future of the Steel City. Is he right? Wrong? Much more important than a yes/no answer to each of these question is the "how?" and "why?" that should follow.

I'm posting my answer here because I'm a proponent of inter-blog conversations and I'm hoping that anyone who reads what I have to say will take the time to chip in her or his two cents.

According to Florida, we can expect this crisis to accelerate the predominant geographic trend: Globalization driving a greater concentration of economic activity into fewer places. Those cities or regions that have acted as talent magnets will, in the long run, only get stronger. That's not good news for most of the Rust Belt, including Pittsburgh.

We should also see the continued decline of suburbs and a renaissance for urban living. Globalization demands a critical mass of ideas in close proximity and that economic growth is dependent on high-densities of a well-educated workforce. That would be good news for Pittsburgh since the city would benefit from a population shift to, instead of away from, Allegheny County.

While I think the existence of a Spiky World is undeniable, the coming Golden Era of Urbanity is controversial. Unless an onslaught of outsiders decides to cram into Oakland or Uptown, I don't see an urban boom on Pittsburgh's horizon (save the schools dramatically improving). Just because more and more jobs are clustering in the city doesn't mean that people will move there. Also, we could see increasing densities in the suburbs and more employers relocating to where the talent is living. Westinghouse isn't going to suddenly abandon its campus in Cranberry for a brownfield near CMU/Pitt. It makes more sense for an innovation cluster to grow in that northern burb. Cranberry could be the hub of Pittsburgh energy technologies. (consider that tip carefully, Youngstown and Erie)

That leaves the question about the fate of the Rust Belt and "second-tier midwestern cities". This economic collapse will probably finish the job started by the last round of globalization. I think we are on the cusp of a new era of globalization, which almost makes prognostication useless. However, Pittsburgh's near-term prospects look excellent.

Eds and meds, the current centerpiece of the Pittsburgh economy, is expected to have a shallow and short contraction. Pittsburgh's economy should bounce back quickly and the region will be on the vaguard of the nation's recovery. What will Pittsburgh do with this running start?

Eds and meds won't sustain the coming growth, but Pittsburgh is positioned to take advantage of a surprisingly diverse portfolio of economic development. I've mentioned the coming energy boom. The financial sector looks relatively promising. Florida touched upon the tech scene. I'd add to that laundry list social media innovation and distance trust economics. I'm more sure now than ever that Pittsburgh is about to experience a boom, which will command strong in-migration. That's how I see the crash reshaping Pittsburgh.


Anonymous said...

That's an interesting analysis. It seems possible that this economic crisis has the potential to help Pittsburgh finally recover from the demise of steel in the region.

Justin Kownacki said...

I'm not sure how to handle this unbridled optimism for the region. I agree that it's a great opportunity for the area to emerge from the post-industrial doldrums, but I wonder if Pittsburgh can be made to look "sexy" enough to lure in the density of businesses that will enable it to grow a population boom. The low cost of living helps, but it may be offset by the short temper of the Steelers' kicker...

Jim Russell said...

I think the social media community could be instrumental in sexing up Pittsburgh. As I talked about at the last PodCamp, social media has the potential (much like the heyday of newspapers) to inform a functional regional identity. I recommend getting behind the Tech Belt Initiative.

Learn more here

kentropic said...

The Economist made some similarly rosy predictions for Pittsburgh in a Sept. 2006 article (

Pgh.'s extremely high percentage of college and grad-school degree-holders is especially relevant to Florida's points in the Atlantic piece.